Meditation was not something that came naturally to me. When I was younger, the rapid-fire tempo of my ideas energized me. My inner world was buzzing with new thoughts and connections. In contrast, I found noticing thoughts and letting them pass, as required by mindfulness meditation training, irritating. The skill appeared to be out of reach. A general sense of boredom didn't help matters either. I was quite delighted to let my so-called monkey mind run wild with its restless and disruptive thoughts.
However, the buzz surrounding mindfulness and meditation has become too loud to ignore. My life was also altered. After becoming a parent nearly a decade ago and spending years reporting on serious themes like high-profile deaths and sexual abuse scandals, not to mention navigating the social and political turbulence of the Trump era, I began to crave calmer emotional waters.
With a new year quickly approaching, you may be seeking for ways to begin or renew a meditation practice. First, understand that it's fine if your path to this is indirect. In 2017, I wrote about my journey via seven different meditation apps to become "someone who makes time, every day, to quiet my thoughts." My practice dwindled after a few months of intense dedication. I only dabbled in meditation until the COVID pandemic, when practicing for 10 to 15 minutes a day became critical for dealing with the never-ending what-ifs. Then, this summer, I caught COVID and spent portions of the day meditating to pass the time, cope with symptoms, and manage the uncertainty of when I'd be able to return to normal.
My go-to meditation app, Ten Percent Happier, recently revealed that I'd reached a milestone that my doubting self would never have imagined: 100 weeks of consistent daily practice, ranging from 10 to 30 minutes each time. True to every clichéd meditation conversion story, I felt transformed.
This metamorphosis taught me three important lessons. First and foremost, it is vital to practice every day for as long as feels comfortable and without straining for perfection. Routine practice can help you get started on the path to receiving the potential advantages of meditation. Second, despite my initial skepticism, I can attest that the benefits, which may include stress reduction and enhanced emotion regulation, were real and highly pleasant for me, albeit requiring a long time to nurture. Finally, even as you become calmer and less reactive, it's critical not to use that expertise to avoid intense feelings. While it's wonderful to be more capable of dealing with emotions, for some, this can lead to numbness or detachment.
Here's more information on each of the lessons I learned:
1. Stop striving for perfection and simply put in the time.
If I could go back in time and gradually lengthen my guided meditations while letting go of the notion that there is a "perfect" method to practice, I would.
During many of my first 100 weeks, I only meditated for five or ten minutes every day. I frequently rationalized that I was too busy for lengthier sessions. While this is sometimes accurate, I'll admit that I've relied on a quick practice to check a box.
However, scientific evidence suggests that the advantages of meditation manifest after weeks of persistent daily practice, possibly of at least 10 minutes or longer. In a 2018 study published in Behavioral Brain Research, researchers discovered that daily practice for 13 minutes per day for four weeks produced no change for meditators compared to a control group listening to a podcast. However, after eight weeks of the same practice, the meditators who continued their daily 13-minute practice reported lower negative moods, improved focus, decreased anxiety, and improved working memory.
Dr. Julia Basso, Ph.D., the study's lead author and an assistant professor in Virginia Tech's department of Human Nutrition, Foods, and Exercise, informed me that the length of the guided meditation was set particularly to fit into a participant's busy day. It had to be long enough to provide benefits, but not too lengthy.